Monday, December 13, 2010

Jesse Tyree: Murder of a "Lunatic"

JESSE TYREE 1847 - 1885

Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane - Photo by Waller Overton Bullock, 1898
Jesse Tyree was the younger brother of my third great grandmother, Louisa Tyree Wallen. He was born in Scott Co., Virginia to William and Lucy Osborne Tyree and was 17 years younger than Louisa who married when he was about 2 years old. Jesse's mother died when he was about 4 and the family relocated to Rockcastle Co., Kentucky. When Jesse was about 18 he married Melinda V. Byrd, daughter of James A. and Margaret Kelly Byrd. Together they had three children: James, Florence and Willie.

It is not yet known exactly what happened to Jesse's father William Tyree. William married for the second time to the widow Martha Kilgore Francisco and had one daughter, Ellen, by her and when Martha died he married another widow in 1865, Margaret Castle Yanders. In 1870 Margaret is found living in Pulaski Co., Kentucky under her previous married name and with the children from her first marriage. Also in her household is her newest offspring, Nannie Tyree. At the same time Jesse is found living in Missouri with his wife, two children, his half sister Ellen and a young girl of some relation, Louisa Tyree, who had been living with the family as early as 1860.

Jesse and his family must have returned home from Missouri shortly after 1870 because half sister Ellen married John Watts in Rockcastle Co. in 1875, however, by 1880 Jesse shows up in the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum in Lexington, Kentucky, listed as an epileptic. They list his previous occupation as "Teacher". His wife and children (by now there was a third child) were all living in Tennessee, each in a separate household but within close proximity of each other.

Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum
In mid December 1885 Jesse was murdered at the asylum by an attendant, Arthur W. Platt, who was trying to force him to come to dinner. When Jesse refused these attempts Platt pulled a loaded gun from his pocket and shot Jesse through the heart. One version of the story says Jesse was pleading piteously for his life. According to one article, 40 inmates witnessed the killing (it is more likely they only heard the gunshot from another room) and apparently some of them came after Platt. Platt briefly alerted another attendant of the incident, packed a valise and fled. He managed to elude arrest for ten years and decided to return home to England where he had family. Platt changed his name to Edward R. Taylor and lived in England for three more years before he decided he liked it better in America. He committed a small crime in order to get arrested and after he was incarcerated he informed Scotland Yard of his warrant in America. Arrangements were made and Platt was finally brought back for trial and was given a light sentence of 4 years in prison. Platt insisted the whole incident was an accident and there were no witnesses still alive to contest his story and even if they had been alive it was doubtful their testimony could be used in court.

After 4 years Platt was given his freedom to resume a normal life. I found no less than 20 newspaper articles on this murder and trial in 6 different Newspapers: Hazelgreen Herald, Morning Herald, New York Times, Mt. Vernon Signal, Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital, and the Omaha World Herald. There is also a lengthy and detailed account entitled "Murder of Jesse Tyree" at, contributed by Pam Brinegar.

Jesse Tyree is buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery of what is now called the Eastern State Hospital.

The many names of Eastern State Hospital:

Fayette Hospital (1817-1822)
Lunatic Asylum (1822-1844)
The Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1844-1849)
Lunatic Asylum of Kentucky (1850-1852)
The Lunatic Asylum (1850-1852)
The Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1852-1855)
The Eastern Lunatic Asylum of Kentucky (1855-1858)
The Kentucky Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1858-1864)
Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1864-1867)
The Kentucky Eastern Lunatic Asylum (1867-1873)
The First Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1873-1876)
Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum (1876-1894)
Eastern Kentucky Asylum for the Insane (1894-1912)
Eastern State Hospital (since 1912)



  1. Fascinating, great research there! I was glued to every word.

  2. Wow, what a tragic and fascinating story! Thanks for sharing. And congratulations on your blog nomination! You have my vote!

  3. Thank you ladies! Lisa, I had to go and look...I didn't know until I saw your comment! Woohoo!

  4. What a story. Thanks for sharing it, Lisa. Great post!

  5. What a fascinating story. My guess is back in the day it was probably tough to find people willing to work in an asylum. People were often so poorly taken care of they didn't care if employees had a shady background or not as long as they were willing to do the work. So sad.

    Congrats on your well deserved nomination Lisa, BTW. Great work!

  6. What a wonderful post ...thanks for sharing this amazing story ...must have a read of you previous posts

  7. I was wondering if you have come across any kind of list of the "inmates" of the asylum. I'm especially interested in the 1900 -1910 time period. Since you have ancestry in the Lexington area, you may be interested in my uncovering of a big mystery involving my g-grandmother. If interested, go to and look for the November posting on "When the Pieces Fall into Place".

  8. Kathy, I have not found any lists of the inmates for any time period although that would be a great thing to get hold of. I don't see why you could not get hold of someone at the present day hospital and ask about old records. At least see what they say. Would love to see your posting on your g-grandmother. Will head over there now! Thanks!

  9. Lisa,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm trying to figure out what happened to my g-grandmother. Because of that book on Belle Brezing, I know they changed their names at will. I also know many became addicted to heroine (which used to be legal). I was reading about an asylum here in Cincinnati and was surprised at the number of women there whose occupation was listed as "prostitute." Just made me wonder.

  10. Lisa, What a wonderful but sad story. I'm also amazed at all the name changes for the State Hospital. Arthur Platt was one lucky guy too.